LET­TING GO OF JEAL­OUSY

How ac­tor An­drew Ran­nells got over envy and learned to live in the mo­ment

InStyle (USA) - - News -

Lance Polokov. That was his name. He was the boy who was cast as Oliver in Oliver! at the Emmy Gif­ford Chil­dren’s Theater in Omaha, Neb. Not me. By the way, I was never go­ing to be cast as Oliver. I didn’t even come close. But as soon as I dis­cov­ered who had got­ten the role, I de­vel­oped my first pro­fes­sional vendetta. The envy that rose in my 9-year-old body was un­like any­thing else I had ever felt be­fore. It was up­set­ting to dis­like some­one I didn’t even know, but it was also mo­ti­vat­ing. I had a mis­sion now; I had a goal. I was go­ing to prove to my­self and to Lance Polokov that I be­longed on that stage, that I was just as good as he was.

As I con­tin­ued to pur­sue this hobby of act­ing that was now be­com­ing a ca­reer, my com­pet­i­tive­ness grew. When I got to New York in 1997, I very much felt as if I were be­hind the eight ball. I had moved there with no con­tacts, no real knowl­edge of the busi­ness, and a ter­ri­ble head shot taken by a lo­cal wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher in Omaha. Ev­ery­thing I thought I knew seemed wrong. I started com­par­ing my­self with ev­ery­one around me to see what they had that I didn’t. It was part as­pi­ra­tional, part self-de­struc­tive. But I couldn’t stop my­self.

The list of peo­ple I was out for got longer and longer. I found my­self be­ing jeal­ous of ev­ery­body: a friend who just booked a Broadway show, a guy I went to school with who popped up on a TV com­mer­cial, a barista at Star­bucks be­cause he had nicer arms than I did. Even when I fi­nally started work­ing on Broadway, I still man­aged to find a way to make my­self feel less than. I wasn’t in the right show. I wasn’t in the new­est show. I didn’t have the big­gest part, the best role. I didn’t al­low my­self to cel­e­brate my suc­cesses.

In 2008 I was in Toronto with Jersey Boys play­ing Bob Gau­dio. It was a role I had fought hard to play and au­di­tioned for time af­ter time. Fi­nally, I booked it. Not on Broadway as I had hoped, but on tour and then open­ing the Toronto com­pany. It was the hap­pi­est I had ever been pro­fes­sion­ally. I loved the role, I loved the show, I loved the peo­ple I worked with ev­ery day. But there was still this nag­ging voice telling me I should be un­happy. I was aim­ing for Broadway but landed in Canada. Noth­ing against Canada, but I was a long way off. Then some­thing in­evitable but still shock­ing hap­pened: I turned 30 on our open­ing-night per­for­mance. I don’t know if it was the mark of a new decade or the clean Cana­dian air, but I had a mo­ment of in­sane clar­ity while on­stage singing and danc­ing to “Oh, What a Night.” This is where I was. There was no place else I wanted to be in that mo­ment. I still had dreams and goals, and I wanted to do so much in my life and ca­reer, but I was in­cred­i­bly happy to be ex­actly where I was in that mo­ment. It seems sim­ple now, but I guess what I re­al­ized that night was that my ca­reer, my hap­pi­ness— or at least what my idea of that was—was not a des­ti­na­tion. It wasn’t some­thing I was go­ing to feel be­cause of a job or a tro­phy or a boyfriend. It was hap­pen­ing right now. I was liv­ing it, and I should en­joy the jour­ney. This re­al­iza­tion freed me up pro­fes­sion­ally to do what I do with­out try­ing to be what I thought a di­rec­tor was look­ing for. I had my bag of tricks as an ac­tor, and if that worked for a par­tic­u­lar role, great. If not? Then it wasn’t meant to be my job. On to the next au­di­tion. I was still sad not to get cer­tain roles, but I knew in my gut that the right one would come along. And then it did, in the form of a Mormon mis­sion­ary in The Book of Mormon. When that op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, I felt oddly calm about the whole process. I had a very clear idea of how I was go­ing to play that part, and I had to trust it was the same way that [show cre­ators] Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted it played. Luck­ily for me, it was. I’m not go­ing to lie and say I’ve never been jeal­ous of any­one since then. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s got­ten so much eas­ier to let that feel­ing go. As I have stuck around this busi­ness for close to 20 years now, I see that ev­ery­one gets a turn, ev­ery­one gets a mo­ment (maybe sev­eral), but none of this makes yours less shiny, less im­por­tant. Eyes on your own pa­per, folks! Ev­ery­one is go­ing to get where they are go­ing.

Ran­nells’s book, Too Much Is Not Enough: A Mem­oir of Fum­bling To­ward Adult­hood, is avail­able March 12.

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